Under fire over allegations of sexual harrassment from as many as seven women journalists so far, there is concern within the Bharatiya Janata Party with opposition parties using it as ammunition to corner the government and demand the ouster of the journalist-turned-politician, reported The Indian Express. Citing a source within the government, the IE report said that though there was no discussion on the subject in the Cabinet meeting that was held on Wednesday, senior ministers informally talked about the charges levelled against Akbar and expressed concern.
“There is an uneasiness among senior leaders over the charges against the minister,” the report said quoting a source in the government.
The accusations against Akbar have come at a time when the government is making desperate attempts to give a push to the participation of women in the economy and highlighting several flagship programmes including Ujjawala, Beti bachao beti padhao and the triple talaq law to claim that it is committed to gender equality.
So far, Akbar, who is currently on a Nigeria trip, has not come forward to issue a clarification. Also, his senior in the Ministry, Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday ducked media queries on the allegations against Akbar. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad too on Wednesday refused to answer any question related to Akbar.
The report said that BJP on its part has only said that the accusations on Akbar are from his journalistic career. “It is important to remember that all these allegations are from the days of Akbar’s journalistic career. Not one is related to his stint as Minister,” a senior BJP leader told IE.
Citing a BJP functionary, the IE report said that there is no clear signal from the party leadership on the continuation of Akbar in the government. The leader argued that there is no FIR against him to act against Akbar. “But it poses a moral issue. It’s for Akbar to take a call on this issue.”
Meanwhile, the government is believed to be weighing its options on Akbar’s continuance in the Cabinet. The IE report said that a final call on his fate will be taken after he returns from his overseas trip later this week.
On Wednesday, the Congress party asked the government to sack Akbar and questioned the silence of Swaraj and the BJP. Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said, “We had hoped that women cutting across political lines will come out in support of these brave women who have now come out and revealed their ordeal and tragic stories. Unfortunately, Sushma Swaraj, to whom many look up to for inspiration, has chosen to stay quiet.”
When The Indian Express contacted women BJP leaders to seek their response on charges against Akbar, they refused to comment but backed the #MeToo campaign that has become the most-talked topic in the recent time.
“I am happy about the campaign. Now there will be a change in the atmosphere at the workplace. Men will not dare to harass or assault women. Women can work without fear and they can come out if anyone tries to harm her because of her gender. Men will be careful now,” BJP leader and Union Minister Uma Bharati said.
BJP MP from New Delhi constituency Meenakshi Lekhi too expressed similar sentiments. Another party leader Poonam Mahajan also said that she supports the movement.
“The #MeToo campaign is merely scratching the surface for what a women actually goes through daily,” Mahajan said. “I am so happy that the conversation has started and we need to reach a place where women are safe in work place, at home and society in general.”
The heat of the #MeToo campaign that has caused a storm in the film industry knocked on the Modi government’s doors when several women journalists accused MoS for External Affairs MJ Akbar of sexually harassing them when he was an editor of a national daily.